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Math and the Mona Lisa Paperback – February 21, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this readable, if less than compelling, disquisition on the close relationship of art and science, physics professor Atalay uses as his touchstone Leonardo da Vinci, of whom he says in his prologue: "Had [da Vinci] been able to publish the scientific ruminations found in his manuscripts in his own time, our present level of sophistication in science and technology might have been reached one or two centuries earlier." This assertion sets the buoyant tone for the rest of the book. The author marvels at the symmetries to be found in art and the natural world, discussing the Fibonacci series (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8...) and the golden ratio related to it designated by the Greek letter phi (1.618...) with illustrated examples ranging from da Vinci's three portraits of women to the Great Pyramid and the Parthenon. He concedes the existence of asymmetry and dissonance, but chooses not to get into such subjects as chaos theory and fractals that don't fit his harmonious view of the universe. While Atalay makes an agreeable guide, he covers too much ground that will already be familiar to his likely audience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“The broad sweep of Professor Atalay's brilliant mind brings us an approach to understanding the Vincian genius that is so insightful, so original, and so well-reasoned that it immediately becomes an essential volume in the canon of Leonardiana. I read this monumental achievement in awe of the author's perceptions.”—Sherwin Nuland, author of Leonardo da Vinci and winner of the 1994 National Book Award for How We Die.

“A masterful examination of the differences and similarities in the sciences and the arts, as embodied by that genius of both fields: Leonardo da Vinci. Professor Bülent Atalay has penetrated Leonardo's mind, in a way that is both highly readable and very informative.”—Jamie Wyeth

“Bülent Atalay takes us on a delightful romp through millenia and across continents, bringing together art, architecture, science, and mathematics under the umbrella of Leonardo's genius. His writing is informed by his artist's eye for beauty, his historian's appreciation of context, and his scientist's love of order and symmetry. I read Atalay's description of Leonardo's The Last Supper not long after having visited the masterpiece in Milan, for the first time since its restoration. His words added an unexpected poignancy to that sublime experience. Leonardo is the prototype for the renaissance man—artist, architect, philosopher, scientist, writer. There are few like him today, but Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model.”—William D. Phillips, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: HarpPeren; Reprint edition (February 21, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060851198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060851194
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #988,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Murray on April 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is a genuinely astonishing book. Its essential idea is that the dichotomy between art and science is a relatively modern idea, that the distinction is not present in Leonardo's method of looking at the world. I've read a lot of good histories of art, and even a good history of science or two, but I've never seen an organic history of both, and that's Atalay's achievement. The illustrations alone -- showing the art in science and the science in art -- are a wonder, and well worth the price of the book. A very elegant entertainment.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By E. Brown on May 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although "Math and the Mona Lisa" addresses art and science in general, at its heart the book is a paean to Leonardo, and a celebration of his works from a unique perspective. The author, Bulent Atalay, a remarkable scientist and artist who has been called a modern Renaissance man, clearly identifies with Leonardo, another scientist, artist, and engineer who was the definitive Renaissance man. This special affinity makes the book more than an ordinary biography, and gives exceptional credibility to the author's views on the ways in which the concatenation and synthesis of art and science informed Leonardo's productions. It is not coincidental that both Atalay and his hero, Leonardo, have produced art that is representationalist, because such work, like science, requires creativity constrained by reality. "Math and the Mona Lisa" is not a lavish coffee-table tome. Instead, it is a compact gem that covers its main theme clearly, concisely, and comprehensively. It is small enough to fit into purse or coat pocket, and light enough to be easily portable. Rather than killing time in queues, waiting rooms, and aircraft, a reader can find, throughout the book, a wide range of thought-provoking statements and allusions, some central and many peripheral to the principal topic of the book. Even readers who are familiar with much of the content of the book may be pleased to see so many disparate ideas brought into meaningful association. Yet the best things, such as this book, do not contain and provide all that we need, but inspire us to think and seek on our own. Good things sometimes do come in small packages.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Russell A. Rohde MD on July 4, 2006
Format: Paperback
"Math and the Mona Lisa: The Art & Science of Leonardo da Vinci", Bulent Atalay, NY, Smithsonian Books, 2006 ISBN: -10-06-085119-8, (PB) 314 pgs.; 280 pg. text plus 21 pg. Biblio. & Notes & 12 pg. Index.

A Prof. of Physics, author Atalay blessed his readers with a succint history of science & art throughout the ages, emphasizing in particular the contributions of Leonardo da Vinci. We are provided 13 Chaps., 16 color plates & several cartoons to intimately introduce Leonardo da Vinci, his birth, & life & times entwined with an invaluable pensive view of the nature of art & science, & the science of art. Atalay ruminates on previous & subsequent renowned scientists, philosophers & artists, including present-day physicists wrestling with quantum mechanics, etc.

For those interested in science & art & seek intimate glimpses into lives & times of the world's greatest thinkers as Aristotle, Archimedes, Michelangelo, Galileo, Newton, de Broglie, Einstein, Schroedinger, etc. this is your book.

Several provocative math/phsics concepts are used to illuminate uncanny conceptual skills of scientists, but this is not a primer on physics, math or art. Nonetheless, it is an important book, one that requires an author to be personally & deeply immersed in the world of science. Atalay has done this admirably & publishers don't get any better. Enjoy.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Sparrowhawk on July 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
The title of this book is a bit of a misnomer. The main focus of this work is a very comprehensive and interesting history of math and science from Aristarchus to Einstein. Granted, additional emphasis is placed on Leonardo da Vinci and the impact science has upon art, but a reader interested in an in depth treatment of either may be left disappointed. The authors view that Leonardo is a scientist first and artist second is quite intriguing. In the end though, the pace of this book was quite frantic and the author tries to cover too much material.

If you are interested in a more compact and readable history of science, I would recommend Mlodinow's "Euclid's Window".

If you are interested in learning more about Leonardo, no one does it better than his contemporary Giorgio Vasari in the classic "Lives of the Artists".

Finally, if you are interested in learning more about the wonders of the Golden Ratio, then Livio's "Golden Ratio" is the gold standard.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By B. W. Jones on April 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Bulent Atalay, the author of this remarkable book, makes a compelling case for Leonardo being just as skilled as a scientist and engineer as he is known to have been as an artist. He writes that Leonardo was "a scientist doing art" seen in such geometric devices as the polyhedral shapes, the impeccable perspective, and in the geological formations found in his paintings. Atalay also writes that Leonardo was "an artist doing science," the evidence on display especially in the breath taking anatomical drawings. The author, himself an accomplished scientist and artist, may just be the perfect scholar to probe Leonardo's methodology. By revealing the results of his analysis in such convincing and readable form, Atalay has created an exceptionally powerful book that cannot fail to inspire, that cannot fail to become a classic. As a professional educator, I would recommend this book to anyone who values a good education.
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